- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2019

Asdrúbal Cabrera took the batter’s box with two outs and the bases loaded, ready to solve the challenge that Zack Greinke presented. As the Nationals second baseman battled, Greinke painted the outside corners with a variety of pitches. The Houston Astros ace opened with a curveball, then threw two fastballs and mixed in a slider for good measure.

But it was the fifth pitch of the at-bat — a 67.8 mph curveball — that left Cabrera befuddled. The 33-year-old swung through, only for the ball to sink on the way down as Houston escaped the inning.

“It’s not easy, man,” Cabrera said. “It’s not easy. This game is never easy.”

Despite getting on base in eight out of nine innings, the Nationals couldn’t get a timely hit Friday as they lost 4-1 in Game 3 of the World Series. Washington still leads the Fall Classic 2-1, but it was unable to take advantage of 10 runners in scoring position (RISP). The Nationals had nine hits and left 12 men on base.

The last time a team went 0-for-10 with RISP in the World Series was the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.

Washington’s lone run came in the bottom of the fourth when center fielder Victor Robles had an RBI triple to score first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

“We got a lot of traffic on the bases,” Zimmerman said. “Any time you can get that many people on base and have that many opportunities, that’s the name of the game. At some point, you just got to get a big hit and sometimes that opens the flood gates. (But) you gotta give them credit. They made good pitches when they needed to.

“You can’t do it every night.”

It was startling to see because for much of this postseason — the entire year, even — the Nationals thrived in similar scenarios. Entering Friday’s game, they were 46 of 86 in scoring position, good for a league-best .314 batting average. In the regular season, Washington scored more runs than any other team with runners on with 658. The next closest team was the New York Yankees with 623, a 35-run differential.

The Nationals, though, generally seemed pleased with their at-bats. Players saw a silver lining in how the game unfolded as Greinke lasted only 4 ⅔ innings — leaving Houston to rely on its bullpen for the rest of the night.

This especially mattered because the Astros had planned to heavily use their relievers in Game 4. Throughout the season, Houston had gone without a reliable fourth-starter as its strength was riding Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Greinke. After Friday’s win, Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced José Urquidy, who has only pitched 4 ⅓ innings in two appearances this postseason, will start Game 4.

“He can go as long as he’s good,” Hinch said. “I don’t have necessarily a predetermined plan on how many innings, how many pitches.”

On Friday, three of Houston’s key relievers — Brad Peacock, Will Harris and Joe Smith — threw 21, 25 and 18 pitches, respectively. Controversial closer Roberto Osuna, who was arrested in 2018 on domestic violence charges (later dropped), made his series debut and threw 16 pitches. Hinch did not say how many of those pitchers will be available for Saturday.

Still, the Nationals missed a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Against Greinke, they struggled to adjust to the pitcher’s variance. Manager Dave Martinez said his players were too aggressive outside the strike zone and sat on pitches they typically try to hit. Star third baseman Anthony Rendon uncharacteristically swung on first pitches in three of his five plate appearances, resulting in pop outs each time.

The Nationals’ inability to produce left the sold-out crowd of 43,867 disappointed. From the start, the fans at Nationals Park were amped up — eager to see the city’s first World Series home game in 86 years. They clapped along to “Baby Shark” when Gerardo Parra pinch-hit in the sixth inning for catcher Kurt Suzkui. They even serenaded Juan Soto with “Happy Birthday” to celebrate his 21st birthday when he took his place in left field between innings.

Soto, however, went 0-for-4. In the ninth, he struck out looking — ending the game.

“We just missed it when we (needed) it,” Soto said, “but tomorrow is another day.”

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